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Learner agency and community building – lockdown lessons

Rob Clarke

Rob is the co-founder and CEO of Learning Architects. He supports leaders and organisations to thrive in the future through coaching, development, technology and learning design. He is a Ministry of Education accredited PLD facilitator. He is also a Dad and volunteers as Special Officer - Education for the United Nations Association of NZ.

For more information please visit: learningarchitects.com/about or get in touch via +64 21 590 572

Learner Agency And Community Building – Lockdown Lessons
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One of the real joys I have had over the past month of lockdown has been watching my own children, as well as teachers and leaders right across New Zealand, try new things. We’ve also tried some new things at Learning Architects which has been fun. It’s also been a great way to prototype new solutions.

Although it’s had its moments, and will continue to impact our communities, in educational terms, it has also been a time of real excitement and possibility. I have never seen such acceleration in professional learning in such a short space of time! Teachers have rapidly taken the opportunities to learn new skills, find new ways to connect with learners, figure out how to use feedback and design learning differently, while involving the student’s whānau more closely in the process. 

Lockdown has been a time when the greatest opportunities for developing learner agency, and strengthening community partnership and equity will have either been realised, or potentially lost.

So what has this experience shown us that we can let go of as we go back to school? Sir Ken Robinson states it so eloquently in his latest talk here:

Schools that were able to quickly tap into and build learner interests and passions may be in the best position to truly reinvent education and take it to the next level. Rototuna High Schools in Hamilton is one example of a school that is doing this well, providing strong connections with whānau in their approach to learning design. They are constantly exploring “…connections between curriculum areas, teachers teaching together, different year groups learning together, and connections to their community and future pathways… 

How do we capitalise on the gains we’ve made? What aspects of this ‘new normal’ are worth keeping and developing further? And how do we even identify these aspects that we want to leave behind, or develop further? 

I think it is important to find ways to build on the significant gains that students, teachers and leaders have made in how they approach ‘school’. One aspect of learning that we are particularly passionate about at Learning Architects is the idea of learner agency, which has been defined as students having the ‘power to act’ and to take charge of their learning journey. This is more than just giving students choice in what they must do, it is about the degree to which the teacher shares power and enables students to take charge in authentic and meaningful ways. 

The result of having a strong learner agency in your programme is that learning becomes personalised, exciting and highly relevant for the individual. It provides an environment where key competencies are developed in natural and complex ways. 

We believe there’s a unique opportunity as we come down from the heightened acceleration of Levels 3 & 4, and it’s still fresh in everyone’s mind, to take a moment and reflect on what worked, what didn’t and what next. To that end, we have put together some questions, along with some example Google Form surveys that you might like to take a copy of/adapt for your own use. There’s an option to get these questions in a Google Form at the end of this post.

How did students find distance learning?

Some of these questions are open-ended and others are best as a continuum running from strongly disagree to strongly agree. There’s an option to get these questions in a Google Form at the end of this post.

  1. What did you really like during distance learning…?
  2. What was challenging for you during distance learning…?
  3. What was the best thing you learned during lockdown (school or non-school related)?
  4. The quantity of learning activities set by teachers was just right for me (strongly agree/strongly disagree). 
  5. Why/why not?
  6. The variety of learning activities set by teachers was just right for me (strongly agree/strongly disagree). 
  7. The learning I have done at home has been engaging (strongly agree/strongly disagree).
  8. I got to take charge of my learning (strongly agree/strongly disagree). Comments…
  9. I got to learn with others in a variety of ways (strongly agree/strongly disagree). 
  10. What advice would you have for your teacher that would make learning even better now…

How did it go for staff?

It is important to consider all staff who support learning in your school, such as learning assistants and teacher aides. 

  1. What three things worked best during distance learning…?
  2. What was challenging for you during distance learning…?
  3. What was the best thing you learned during lockdown (school or non-school related)?
  4. What would you suggest we change as we return…?
  5. What do you want to do differently as we return to school again? What do you need help with…
  6. If we were to return to lockdown again, what would you do differently?
  7. What’s one thing you think we lose from our current systems?
  8. What’s one thing we could add?

How did it go for families?

This is probably best kept short, but never before have the family so closely involved, so it’s a great opportunity to get their opinion Here are some starting points:

  1. What have been the successes during distance learning…?
  2. What have been the challenges…?
  3. What would be an improvement you could suggest…
  4. What is one thing you noticed about your son/daughter as a learner during this time?

Get these questions as Google Forms,
and save yourself some time

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